When Jelly Had a Wobble / Ceri & Deri: Get Your Skates On

When Jelly Had a Wobble
Michelle Robinson and Tom Knight
Scholastic

Should you or should you not let others know how you are feeling? That dilemma lies at the heart of this story.

Jelly, the main protagonist definitely has some feelings of self-doubt he’s not eager to share when he’s expected to tag along with all the other dinners heading to the Kitchen Hall of Fame keen to discover which of their number will receive the golden crown for “Best in Show’. He’s the only one showing any reluctance to participate in this culinary extravaganza.

In fact he’s all of a wobble, unable to ‘take the tension’ despite the enthusiasm and determination of fellow foodies that he be there for the big announcement.

So determined are they that some are even ready to offer some calming techniques to help with his wibble-wobble nerves …

Imagine Jelly’s surprise then, when the announcement is made.

With its repeat ‘jelly on a plate’ refrain to join in with, and plenty of speech bubbles along the way, Michelle Robinson’s jolly rhyming narrative reads aloud well. Tom Knight’s foodie characters are a whacky lot with their googly eyes that clearly express how they’re feeling in his bright, funny scenes. The combination of words and pictures provides a taste bud tickling tale about being yourself to share with foundation stage children and little ones at home.

Ceri & Deri: Get Your Skates On
Max Low
Graffeg

In the latest of Max Low’s gently educational series featuring striped moggy Ceri and her spotty pooch pal, Deri, the two help Dai Duck learn some important life lessons.

Dai is absolutely determined to be the best at anything and everything he tries and wants it to happen straightaway. So when he tries his hand (s), feet and brain at skateboarding, spelling, music making, DIY and rugby

and a host of other activities, the result is disaster. The trouble is Dai just isn’t prepared to put in all the hard work, perseverance and positive thinking that’s required when you want to be successful at something.

Until that is, Ceri and Deri step in and introduce him to Barbara Bear, ace skateboarder. She explains how her success is down to all the tumbles she’d taken as a learner acting not as a deterrent, but a motivation and an opportunity to spend time having fun with her friends. Can a similar attitude work for Dai? You bet …

The inherent humour and Max Low’s distinctive, bold illustrative style make for another enjoyable Ceri and Deri experience.

A House for Christmas Mouse / The Lightbringers / Magnificent Mabel and the Christmas Elf

A House for Christmas Mouse
Rebecca Harry
Nosy Crow

On a snowy Christmas Eve an excited Mouse arrives at Treetop Forest in search of somewhere to call home – somewhere cosy and warm, with food and friends.

Coming upon a little rabbit outside his burrow she knows she must stop and help him light a fire within and so she does. She also stops to assist Fox in his cake making

and Bear with hanging up Christmas decorations, but having done so it’s almost sundown and Mouse still hasn’t found her new home.

Suddenly a gust of wind sends her tumbling into the deep snow and when she gets up, there before her is something that might just be the perfect place to make her home. On closer inspection it seems far from perfect though, so off she goes to search for leaves to make a bed. As she looks, who should come hurrying by but Bunny, followed soon after by Fox and then bear, each carrying something with them.

Where are they going and why?

With its wintry woodland setting and sparkly touches, Rebecca Harry’s lovely gentle tale of kindness repaid is just right for sharing with the very young this festive season.

The Lightbringers
Karin Celestine
Graffeg

This is the first of a new four book series, Tales of the Turning Year. With a combination of folklore and nature the author weaves an uplifting, hopeful story that retells an ancient renewal tale found in various parts of the world in honour of the winter solstice. Assuredly during this current covid lockdown we would all welcome a visit from The Lightbringers – small beings that gather embers and put them into their seed lanterns.

Karin explains how the seasons change as the earth breathes, with a particular focus on the increasing darkening with the approach of December 21st, the winter solstice – a turning point that heralds the spring and longer, lighter days.

Her words are simple but impactful, accompanying her atmospheric, beautifully composed photographic tableaux of the natural world populated by her felted animals, particularly the Lightbringers led by Hare – the caller. With its reassuring final, ‘The light will always return because it is guarded by small beings and they are steadfast in their dark’ this is a book to share and be cheered by in these dark days.

For new solo readers is

Magnificent Mabel and the Christmas Elf
Ruth Quayle, illustrated by Julia Christians
Nosy Crow

Mabel of Rabbit Riot fame returns to relate three further episodes in which she demonstrates her magnificence. In the first we find our young narrator in the sweetest of moods as she unearths her Christmas Elf from the box of decorations. She tries to get her classmate Edward into the Christmas spirit too but without much success; but she’s more successful in allowing her naughty little elf get her into big trouble over Christmas presents.

In the second story Mabel tries her very best to befriend a new boy and also finds out that once in a while school can be really interesting.

It’s toddler-minding that gets our young heroine into a tizzy in the final episode, and that’s after she’s declared that looking after toddlers is ‘easy and fun’. Really – Even cousin William?…

Huge entertainment from such a delightful character: Ruth Quayle really does appear to have the ability to see things from the viewpoint of six-year-olds, and Julia Christians’ black and white illustrations are a spirited delight.

Little Bunny’s Book of Thoughts

Little Bunny’s Book of Thoughts
Steve Smallman
Graffeg

This is exactly what we all need right now: a little book to have to hand when everything is getting on top of us, the pandemic news is getting worse day by day, and the thought of not seeing friends and relations looms large. It’s so easy to start feeling like Little Bunny at the start of this book – lost and alone, all at sea.

But as the little creature slowly, slowly discovers through mindfulness, that looking at things from a different perspective,

perhaps by something as seemingly simple as looking outwards instead of inwards, it’s possible to turn those negative thoughts into positive ones.

Yes, better days will surely come and in the meantime, it’s wise to return to Bunny’s reminder as he shares his thoughts in a rhyming narrative, that ‘life’s not as bad as it seems’.

I was fascinated to read how this book of Steve’s developed as he was experimenting with a new technique using a soft pencil. The outcome is a pocket /handbag size book that is assuredly one to give and one to keep. I will certainly be doing both in the coming weeks.

Mouse & Mole: A Fresh Start

Mouse & Mole: A Fresh Start
Joyce Dunbar and James Mayhew
Graffeg

This is the fifth book in the enchanting series that stars close friends Mole and Mouse. Now though, in the first of the three stories, the two decide that perhaps they’ve become just a little too close and are taking one another for granted. In order for their friendship not to pall they agree to avoid one another for an entire day, however challenging that might be. Then their friendship can start all over again.
Mole insists the manner of Mouse’s execution of the plan is kept to himself.
The following morning Mouse receives an invitation to visit Hedgehog for elevenses so, making sure to avoid Mole, off he goes leaving a note as to his whereabouts. Mole meanwhile is late to rise – as usual and on discovering no sign of Mouse, is disturbed.

An exhaustive search of their home reveals no sign of his best pal. Distraught at the possibility that Mouse has forsaken him and found a new friend, he drives off to pay a call on several other of the woodland animals leaving a message for Mouse with each. The last call he pays is to …

Hip-Dip-Dip sees Mole spoilt for choice when Mouse decides to buy his bestie the much-wanted toy sailing boat he’s seen in Hare’s toyshop window. Mole’s original longing was for a blue boat with a white sail but when they discover there are other possibilities, Mole gets into such a tizzy that they leave without making a purchase.

The following day is perfect for boat sailing on the pond so it’s back to the toyshop where Hare informs them that a mystery buyer has bought the blue boat over the phone. Oh dear! Now what will happen …

In the final tale A Bolt from the Blue, the two friends get caught in a thunderstorm. With the possibility of a lightning strike, should they or shouldn’t they take shelter under a large tree? Or is it better to make a dash for home. Perhaps neither is the best way to deal with a sudden downpour, if so what will Mouse and Mole decide to do?

The magic still holds good in these latest short stories; surprises, warmth and gentle humour abounds and there’s that characteristic element of surprise in each episode which brings such delight to readers and listeners alike. James’ delectably detailed illustrations combined with Joyce’s seemingly effortless storytelling offer a perfect snuggle up on a dark evening story share delight.

The New Girl

The New Girl
Nicola Davies and Cathy Fisher
Graffeg

Softly spoken, sensitively rendered and enormously moving is Nicola and Cathy’s latest picture book narrated by a member of the class into which the new girl arrives ‘wrapped up like a parcel’ and not understanding a word that was said by her classmates.

Almost unbelievably, the newcomer is set apart to eat her lunch on account of its ‘funny’ smell and as school ends she walks away quite alone. This cruel behaviour continues day after day as winter arrives bringing with it dark and dreariness.

Then one day into that dark something wonderful appears on the teacher’s desk.

Each day after that another one appears somewhere in the classroom bringing with it feelings of warmth and cheer until the beautiful objects stop coming.

At their teacher’s suggestion, the children start trying to make their own paper flowers, the narrator unsuccessfully … until the new girl shows her how.

Flower making isn’t all that’s learned in that classroom on that particular day though; so too is a new language and the importance of accepting difference, of understanding and of friendship …

Cathy Fisher’s illustrations are startlingly realistic, full of feeling and atmosphere – the ideal complement to Nicola’s text.

Primary classrooms should definitely add this to their collections.

Early Years Picture Book Shelf

How About a Night Out?
Sam Williams and Matt Hunt
Boxer Books

We join a kitty cat embarking on a nocturnal excursion through the city where  adventures aplenty await. There are friends to meet for a ‘catercall’ upon the wall,

a roundabout to ride upon, birds to scare and much more. A ‘night to sing about’ claims our adventurer but all too soon the sun comes up and it’s time to head for home and some city kitty slumbers.

Delivered in jaunty rhyming couplets and Matt Hunt’s alluring art showing the cat’s journey against the inky dark sky, this will surely please early years listeners.

What Colour Is Night?
Grant Snider
Chronicle Books

If you’re thinking night is black, then have another think. You certainly will having read Grant Snider’s poetic nocturnal exploration. Herein he shows us the multitude of colours that a closer look will reveal. There’s blue for a start, ‘a big yellow moon beginning to rise’, the fireflies glowing gold in the park.

But that’s just the start: there are ‘Fat brown moths dancing in yellow streetlights’, a whole city lit with red neon signs, the green-eyed glow of prowling raccoons, silver stars spilling across the sky above the barely visible countryside.

The silent stillness of his scenes though, is not confined to the outdoors. Inside we see the grey face of a clock, the shapes afloat in the bowl holding a midnight snack are yellow blue and pink; while through the window we start to see the moon’s rings and outdoors once more are ‘all the night’s colours in one moonbow’.

I’m pretty sure that young readers and listeners will envy the sleeping child picked up and taken on a dream flight through pink and purple clouds over the city aglow with colours. Snider offers an ideal excuse for little ones to request a delay to their own slumbers in order to view those ‘colours unseen’.

What Can You See?
Jason Korsner and Hannah Rounding
I Like to Put Food in My Welly
Jason Korsner and Max Low
Graffeg

What Can You See? invites little ones to develop their observation skills as they focus on in turn a table laid for tea, a lounge, the garden, the sky, the jungle, a flower and a host of other focal points to locate the objects named in the relevant verse in Hannah Rounding’s delectable illustrations.
In I Like to Put Food in My Welly, playful topsy-turvies result from putting butter on the bread, pulling a rabbit from a hat, climbing an apple tree and other starting points, each scenario being presented in Max Low’s zany sequences (Did I see two of Max’s popular characters making a guest appearance?)

Engaging rhymes and art: just right for putting across the ‘language is fun’ message to pre-schoolers.

Koshka’s Tales: Stories from Russia

Koshka’s Tales: Stories from Russia
James Mayhew
Graffeg

Immediately engaging from the outset is James Mayhew’s deft weaving together of a handful of Russian folktales using Koshka the story-spinning feline of the title as narrator.

We meet this cat at the end of the first tale in which Tsar Saltan marries one of three sisters, Militrissa, who promises to bear him seven sons, and is tricked several times by her jealous siblings.

As a result he has her tossed into the sea in a casket but Militrissa, along with one baby son whom she has hidden up her sleeve, do not perish and eventually end up on the far distant island of Buyan. And it’s there they meet the wise Koshka and before long she begins to tell the new arrivals The Tale of the Snowmaiden.

Thereafter comes another story telling of an encounter with a merchant who acts as a link between Tsar Saltan and his wife on the island.

The merchant returns taking back on subsequent trips each of Koshka’s tales, the others being The Tale of Sadko the Minstrel,

the Tale of Ivan, the Grey Wolf and the Firebird,

The Tale of Vassilisa the Fair and Baba-Yaga, to the Tsar until eventually he is convinced to set sail himself and find his wife.

James’s illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. I love the ornamental folklore inspired motifs that border the text and the beautiful richly coloured side panels and full-page illustrations that make every page turn a delight.

A terrific way to introduce youngsters to the riches of Russian folklore; this book would make a great present and is perfect for sharing on chilly wintry days and nights.

Through the Eyes of Us / In Every House, on Every Street

Through the Eyes of Us
Jon Roberts and Hannah Rounding
Graffeg

This is the second book written by the father of a child on the autism spectrum.

Herein as well as Kya from Through the Eyes of Me, we meet her best friend Martha.

Kya, now at school, talks about her experiences there, sometimes contrasting her thoughts, behaviour and preferences with Martha’s.

I know from experience of children I’ve taught that school can be a very confusing place for neurodiverse children, but both girls have their own ways of navigating through lessons, playtimes and lunchtimes, all of which are illustrated in colourful, detailed, sometimes funny scenes.

Kya also describes how she and Martha enjoy different tactile experiences,

and activities in their free time; and their routines are also different.

Martha knows when she feels tired, unlike our narrator whose energy seems boundless; although once asleep after a soothing bath and massage, she sleeps soundly.

Enlivened by Hannah Rounding’s expressive illustrations, this is a smashing celebration of every child’s uniqueness as well as providing an insightful picture of the world of an autistic child.

The book concludes with a list of relevant websites.

Put Through the Eyes of Us in your class collection and whether or not you have children on the autism spectrum therein, read it together, talk about it and lend it to individuals for home sharing too.

In Every House, on Every Street
Jess Hitchman and Lili La Baleine
Little Tiger

The girl narrator of this book invites readers into her house to see what goes on in its various rooms.

What we discover is a happy family engaging in seemingly ordinary everyday activities, but nothing they do is dull or mundane.

The cake baking in the kitchen becomes an opportunity for the family to dance and sing together.

The dining room might be the place for eating a meal, but that meal can turn into a fun piratical party,

while the living room is a great spot for rest and relaxation but also for dancing and singing, mulling things over and talking about feelings.

Yes the bathroom is for getting clean but there are opportunities for some artistic endeavours too.

And the bedroom? Yes sleep happens therein, but so too does play.

Full of warmth, this is a lovely demonstration of what makes a house a home delivered through Jess Hitchman’s upbeat rhyming narrative and Lili La Baleine’s views of the everyday incidents of family life that make it special but different for everyone in the street, as the final fold out spread reveals.

Molly and the Whale

Molly and the Whale
Malachy Doyle and Andrew Whitson
Graffeg

Following a stormy night, Molly and Dylan go down to the seashore in search of interesting items that might have been washed up. What they find however is not what they’d been anticipating.

“Daddy! Daddy! … There’s an enormous whale on the beach!” comes Molly’s cry.

Loading up the barrow with buckets and spades, the father and children head for the beach again where it’s now low tide.

There, with the help of their friends, Molly and Dylan keep the whale’s skin cool and her dad digs a trench around the huge creature.

Then they wait the long wait for the tide to come in, which they hope, will be sufficiently high to enable the whale to free itself and swim away. Molly sings to the massive creature in an effort to calm her own nerves although her heartfelt song cannot cool the increasingly unhappy whale.

Disappointment comes when the high tide proves insufficiently deep to enable the creature to swim off.

Molly is distraught: her father sends her home promising to wait on the beach for the full moon tide. Perhaps that will be higher … and happily, so it proves.

This is the second story to feature island-dwelling Molly, her family and friends. I quickly found myself drawn to the young girl, her empathy with the whale and her determination to save it.

I’m sure young listeners will be too as they hear Malachy’s tale and see Andrew Whitson’s quirky, richly coloured, patterned illustrations of teamwork set against beautiful sea and landscapes .

Mouse & Mole

Mouse & Mole
Joyce Dunbar and James Mayhew
Graffeg

First published over 25 years ago, it’s wonderful to see what was a favourite book among new solo readers in primary classes I was teaching at the time, brought back in print by Graffeg.

Mouse and Mole are great friends (somewhat similar to Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad to whom there’s a dedication of sorts before the five tales herein).

All five of the stories are adorable but I think my favourite remains Talk to Me. Here the two chat together about the possibilities of ‘tomorrow’ be it fine – then a picnic with cheese and cucumber sandwiches is the order of the day. If however the day isn’t fine, then an apple wood fire, cosy armchairs, roast chestnuts, toasted muffins and hot chocolate (mmm!) are on the agenda. Should it be ‘an in-between sort of day’, Mouse suggests ‘we will do something in-between’ … We will tidy up.’ I hope for their sake it isn’t the third option. I doubt we have in-between days in our house!

Salad is the title of story number two and the day is, so Mouse informs his still in bed pal, ‘wild and wintry’. Who can blame Mole for wanting to stay snuggled up in a cosy, warm bed, even with the offer from Mouse of huddling by the fire to consume toasted muffins and roast chestnuts.

Those particular items appear to be favourites with the two characters, one of which consumes large quantities of both.

I won’t divulge what happens in the other three stories – Tidying Up

Stuff

and The Picnic – yes they do finally go –

rather I’ll urge you to get yourself a copy of this new edition that still has as much charm – both Joyce’s deliciously comic tellings and James wonderful illustrations – as I remember from back in the day. Read alone or read aloud, it’s great either way.

Ceri & Deri: The Treasure Map / Ceri & Deri: Build a Birdhouse

Ceri & Deri: The Treasure Map
Ceri & Deri: Build a Birdhouse

Max Low
Graffeg

These are the latest titles featuring best friends Deri the Dog and Ceri the cat that introduce young children to specific concepts/skills through fun stories. (Here it’s orientation and design.)

The Treasure Map in the former is an old one that once belonged to Ceri’s nan, an erstwhile pirate, so the stripy feline claims. Ceri’s story of said nan sailing the high seas inspires Deri and the two set off excitedly, map in paws, to find treasure.

En route they are joined by the equally enthusiastic Gardener Glesni, Owain the Optician and Farmer Ffion who are more than willing to leave their respective allotment, spectacle selling, and vegetables to join the search.

Eventually the map leads them within smelling distance of the sea.

But is that treasure buried on the sandy beach as they’d been led to believe by the X, and if so just what will they discover when they dig?

The Bird House tells how the friends come upon a curious little bird while out walking together in town. Clearly it cannot remain on Deri’s head so the two decide to build it a house.

They think carefully about the design – a hallway with telephone for making ‘bird calls’ and ‘a place for all its shoes,” they decide; a kitchen with a plethora of bird seed, flowers, a sink; a balloon-filled dining room , amazing tree-patterned wallpaper, a record player (for listening to bird songs) a bathroom complete with bird bath entered by waterslide

and (obviously) a wave machine. The friends get even more carried away with their elaborate plans; but, tools and materials assembled, can they actually put them into action: I wonder?

This one made me laugh out loud a couple of times, it’s so sweetly silly and I’m happy to report that despite Ceri’s feline-ness, the bird has found two new friends.

If you’re yet to meet Ceri and Deri, I suggest you start here. The friends are a delight and Max Low’s stories are full of charm and engagingly illustrated.

The Academy of Barmy Composers: Baroque

The Academy of Barmy Composers: Baroque
Mark Llewelyn Evans, illustrated by Karl Davies
Graffeg

The author of this book, professional opera singer Mark Llewelyn Evans, is the founder and creative director of ABC of Opera Productions, a company that tours the UK introducing children to the stories and glories of the opera through music and storytelling.
His enthusiasm shines through this, his debut children’s book, the first in The Academy of Barmy Composers series. Herein readers follow the fabulous story of best friends Megan and Jack who climb over the gate of Pontirgorffenol village music hall, (long since fallen into disuse and said by some to contain treasure), and discover Trunk. They’re amazed to learn that this Trunk into which they’d both fallen is able to talk – in 43 languages what’s more.

Thus begins an awesome adventure with Trunk, taking them back to 1597 to the country of its origin – ‘shaped like a boot’ – and there to discover ”The ABC of Opera” and the Academy of Barmy Composers.

After something of a crash landing in Florence, Megan and Jack find themselves face-to-face with golden-haired Professor Peri,(aka Golden Locks) inventor of Opera who leads them into the academy hall; there to meet the ‘Baa-rockers’ – Florence’s cool “arty fartys” as the composers introduce themselves.

There is so much to discover but the prof. is a passionate teacher

and the children avid listeners who cannot help but be swept up in the crazy but enormously exciting learning experience,

which ends all too soon.

And so it will be I have no doubt, with child readers who are lucky enough to get their hands on this exuberantly presented, thoroughly engaging book. I love the characters, Karl Davies’ zany illustrations are a joy, and there are concluding spreads giving information on instruments of the time, voice types and the composers. If the whole experience doesn’t leave youngsters eager to experience baroque music, especially opera, then nothing will.
Bring on the next musical adventure.

Helping Hedgehog Home / Grotwig the Goblin

Helping Hedgehog Home
Karin Celestine
Graffeg

This is the ninth adventure of Karin Celestine’s Celestine and the Hare series in which friendship, fun and kindness are the essence. The characters are little felt animals, particularly the Water Vole family comprising Bertram who likes sewing, his gardening lover dad Bert, Grandpa Burdock a nature expert who makes others laugh with his silliness, Granny Dandelion, fixer extraordinaire and Bertram’s mum Beatrice, explorer and inventor.

When a hedgehog in a hot air balloon crashes into the pond while Grandpa Burdock is investigating it for possible newcomers, he learns that the prickly creature has been shut out of her log pile home in the garden next door on account of a new fence. Now her balloon has burst and Hedgehog has no way of getting back.

While she refreshes herself with tea and bramble biscuits, Grandpa’s head buzzes with ideas for getting their visitor home. As his drawings of possible contraptions get ever more dangerous-looking,

Granny has been otherwise occupied, but when she appears on the scene and learns of Hedgehog’s plight, she too gets busy to find a solution.
Her workshop resounds with sawing and hammering and before long Granny reveals something that sends Hedgehog’s heart soaring with happiness …

This super-sweet altruistic tale bubbles over with kind thoughts and deeds; with a papier-mâché hot air balloon making activity and information about hedgehogs and how to help them at the end, it’s a delightfully playful, warm-hearted book for sharing with little humans.

Grotwig the Goblin
John Swannell
John Swannell Studios

‘Where’s Wally?’ and ‘a needle in a haystack’ sprung to mind on opening this photographic book, even though there’s not a haystack in sight.

Narrated in rather creaky corny rhyme by goblin, Grotwig, we share in his ramblings through the countryside: ramblings that, at different times of the year take him, as we see in Swannell’s photographs of topiary, pine and mixed deciduous woods, dry stone walls and hedgerows, ancient Yews and Oaks,

moorland hills and byways, and tranquil lakes, through all kinds of terrain.

There are times when the goblin asks readers to find him (with the aid of a magnifier housed in a pocket on the inside front cover) in the photos, This makes us slow right down and look closely at each of the rural landscapes. In itself, that is a good thing: the photographs are lovely and the peaceful scenes well worth paying attention to,

reminding this reviewer of some of the walks taken around the Gloucestershire countryside.

Children are increasingly pressurised and tend to seek escape on screens rather than going outdoors. A book like this might help to tempt them to do the latter and although they won’t encounter any goblins, there’s nature’s magic aplenty to discover in the great outdoors.

A Boy’s Best Friend / The Mountain Lamb

These are books five and six in Nicola and Cathy’s Country Tales short fiction series about young people growing up in a rural environment, published by Graffeg who kindly sent them for review.

A Boy’s Best Friend
The Mountain Lamb
Nicola Davies, illustrated by Cathy Fisher

A Boy’s Best Friend starts with young Clinton reluctant to leave his tropical island home, his gran and his fisherman Uncle Cecil to join his mother in London where she’s lived for five years. He feels anxious about meeting his step-father, eager to meet new little sister and very unhappy at the prospect of having to leave behind his much loved dog, Rufus.

But leave the island he does arriving in England as spring approaches. At first, despite the family’s best efforts, he feels lost and as though all the light has been leeched from him in this chill, drear place called London.

Then comes news of a school trip by minibus to a castle in Kent and despite there not being the intended farm visit, Clinton joins the party. But when the minibus meets with an accident and ends up partly in a ditch, Clinton takes the opportunity to help an old man, David with his stampeding cows, scared by the crash.

From then on, despite being in big trouble at school and at home for running off after the accident, things start to look brighter for young Clinton who readily takes up the farmer’s subsequent offer to visit his farm and lend a hand.

Beautifully told and full of warmth, Nicola’s short tale of love, change and adjusting to a new life, will speak to everyone, especially those who have had to leave much of what they love to start a new life elsewhere. Cathy Fisher’s delicately worked black, white and grey illustrations further add to the atmosphere of the telling.

Young Lolly in The Mountain Lamb is faced with tremendous challenges too. Her mother has died and now Lolly lives on a sheep farm with her grandparents. It’s lambing time and up on the moor, she finds an orphaned baby lamb so small it fits inside the woolly hat she uses to carry it home.

Fearing that it won’t live through the night, Lolly is surprised to hear its tiny bleat next morning at breakfast time: seemingly the lamb wants feeding. Lolly decides to call it Susan after her mother.

Grandpa encourages the girl to take responsibility for rearing the little creature. She rapidly forms at attachment to it, knowing though that it will eventually have to become part of the flock.

After months of not leaving the farm and its surroundings, it’s time for Lolly to return to school but fog causes Gran to abort the journey and they go back to the farm.

Time passes with Lolly staying back rearing the lamb and helping her grandparents indoors and out. One day Susan goes missing and despite a blizzard, Lolly embarks on a perilous search. Is she to meet a fate similar to her mother whom we learn had died in an accident on a Himalayan climb?

Happily not, for her Gran is experienced in Mountain Rescue.

The lost lamb makes its own way safely back and finally Lolly returns to school after a long, hard but rewarding few months.

This tale of courage and love is potent and moving throughout; I couldn’t put it down.

Only One Of Me

Only One Of Me
Lisa Wells, Michelle Robinson and Catalina Echeverri
Graffeg

Less than twelve months ago at just thirty-one, Lisa Wells, mother of two young children, was diagnosed with terminal bowel and liver cancer. Instead of letting herself become overwhelmed by gloom, Lisa was determined to leave something very special to show her abiding and unconditional love for her two little girls, and also to help other families in similar situations. Part of this is Lisa’s Army UK and the other is Only One of Me, the book, which, thanks to co-writer and friend Michelle Robinson, illustrator Catalina Echeverri and crowd funding, was completed in a matter of months.

Speaking in rhyme to her children Lisa wistfully acknowledges that her time left is all too short and insufficient to do all that she’d hoped with her little ones.

Instead, with the loving support of those left behind (family and friends),

the remainder of her message is one of enormously inspiring positivity: ‘Be kind! Be Brave! Be free! Remember all our joy and fun / When you remember me. Love you always, Mummy xxx’ she tells the girls.

The love this mother has for her family shines through in every one of Catalina Echeverri’s beautiful illustrations.

There’s also a version of the book – ‘A love letter from Dad’ illustrated by Tim Budgen and both artists waived their illustrator’s fees and like the co-authors are giving their royalties from sales to We Hear You (WHY) and Mummy’s Star charities.

Powerful, poignant and comforting, this is a book that nobody wants to have to use, but one that could offer essential reading for families facing and coping with, impending bereavement.

The Secret of the Egg / Amazing Animal Babies

The Secret of the Egg
Nicola Davies and Abbie Cameron
Graffeg

What a cracking book this is; the first one I’ve seen in this series by zoologist, poet and author, Nicola Davies and illustrator Abbie Cameron.

Through a highly engaging rhyming narrative, Nicola introduces children to animal eggs of all shapes and sizes;

eggs that might be found in puddles or high in a tree; those you might have to dig for, or search in the sea or pond to discover. There are reptiles’ eggs, birds’ eggs, amphibians’ eggs, fishes’ eggs, even mammalian eggs.

With the exception of the platypus, none of the creatures featured are named so identifying whose eggs are whose is left to Abbie Cameron’s richly detailed, painterly pictures so adult assistance or some additional research may be needed.

This would make a great way to introduce a ‘new life’ topic to young children.

Amazing Animal Babies
Aina Bestard
Thames & Hudson

Animals large and animals small, from various parts of the world feature in Aina Bestard’s book.
Using as many as six intricately detailed transparent overlays the author/illustrator documents in words and aptly coloured visual images, how each animal produces and rears its young.

Herein readers will discover that the penguin parents, as well as the other members of a penguin colony play a part in the rearing of penguin chicks but it’s the Dad penguin that keeps the egg warm while Mum penguin goes off searching the ocean for food. After a chick is hatched however, both parents take turns to find food until their little one can care for itself.

In contrast, having found a safe place to lay her eggs, a mother tortoise leaves them alone to hatch and feed on the surrounding vegetation.

Once they’re laid it’s the father seahorse that takes care of the eggs inside his pouch, whereas with the kangaroo, the baby kangaroo is kept safe in its mother’s pouch.

The monarch butterfly and the common toad never meet their parents and grow up entirely on their own.

The final animal, the blue whale is reared on its mother’s milk, sometimes with the help of other whales.

The illustrations are exquisite and the narrative chatty: prepare to be amazed as you turn the pages of this fascinating book.

Ootch Cootch

Ootch Cootch
Malachy Doyle and Hannah Doyle
Graffeg

Author Malachy Doyle has collaborated with his daughter, illustrator Hannah Doyle to create this timely thought-provoking book.

How would you feel if you landed up alone in a place where nobody else speaks the same language as you? Terrified probably, and so it is for Little Skunk who is left behind on a railway platform when the train taking his family has departed.

The other animals are reluctant to respond to the tannoy message for help from the stationmaster for anyone speaking Skunk to come to his aid. Little Bel Badger doesn’t want to assist because, so she tells her Mum, “He smells”. Mum explains it’s on account of him being frightened and then Bel offers to try.

The little skunk is clutching a photo as Bel listens to what he has to say and does her very best to make sense of his words.

With Hare and Rabbit’s help, she works out that it’s a family photo and that they’ve gone off in a train accidentally leaving him behind in the loo.

Words of reassurance follow and a promise from the stationmaster that he’ll ring through to the next station and get the train halted there.

When the next train arrives all the animals climb aboard with Little Skunk and en route change their minds about him.
After a journey of anxiety on Bel and Little Skunk’s part they reach their destination and ‘Hurrah!’ The skunk family is re-united.

But there’s a pleasant surprise awaiting Bel too. “Ootch Cootch!’ Good on Bel for standing against prejudice.

This tale has much to say to us all, child and adult, in these troubled times when all too many people are quick to form judgements about anyone at all ‘different’. After all we’re all different and we all need to embrace that difference, accommodate others, learn about and from them. That way lies the route to making not just our own country but others, a better place; a hopeful place with better times to come.

Told and illustrated as it is, with gentle, warm-hearted humour, a topical picture book like Malachy and Hannah’s is a good place to start. (By the way ‘Ootch cootch’ is Skunk for ‘hug’).

Ceri & Deri:No Time For Clocks / Ceri & Deri:Good To Be Sweet

Ceri & Deri:No Time For Clocks
Ceri & Deri:Good To Be Sweet

Max Low
Graffeg

I’ve not come across this series before but I was very happy to become acquainted with the inseparable cat Ceri and her best friend Deri the dog. The two are always on the lookout for new learning opportunities.

In No Time For Clocks, the two friends have arranged an afternoon meet up but although Ceri is on time, Deri is nowhere to be seen.
When the dog finally shows up there ensues a discussion about their differing lunch times and the problem of knowing when the other one is ready.
Then along comes Gwen Green and she offers the solution: a clock each for Deri and Ceri. Neither has a clue about clocks so a fair bit of puzzling and explaining follow.

Eventually Gwen disappears, returns with the objects in question and shows them how to work their new tools. When they still seem rather at sea with the whole notion of clock numbers, she produces her pen and proceeds to add little pictographs to the faces of each.

Hurrah! Job done. Now all that’s needed is a visit to Tomos’ Tea Room for a spot of tea, cake and chat, but there’s just one slight snag …

Good To Be Sweet finds the owner of Bryn’s Sweet Shop in generous mood when he notices the two friends with their noses pressed hopefully against his window.

He gives them a bag containing 11 sweets with instructions to share them. The problem starts when they realise that having taken five each, there’s a sweet remaining. Who should have that one since neither Ceri nor Deri likes that particular flavour?

This dilemma precipitates several more rounds of sweet giving generosity as Dai Duck expresses a love of certain kinds

until all that remains for the two friends is an empty bag. Oops!

Thank goodness then for Dai the Duck’s altruistic act …

A great way to introduce young children to the idea of telling the time and division respectively, these two books are great fun and educative without being overly so. They also portray the ups and downs of friendship with humour; all this through the amusing dialogue and bright, uncluttered illustrations.